AUSTIN, Texas -- I don't get it. The divide between the rhetoric and the reality in this administration is larger than I can span. The dissonance between the noble ideals expressed and the nasty actions is too raw for me.

For example, Bush announces: "Our founders dedicated this country to the cause of human dignity, the rights of every person and the possibilities of every life. This conviction leads us into the world to help the afflicted, and defend the peace, and confound the designs of evil men." (I got that nugget from the 2003 State of the Union via an article by Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully.) So how come we give less to the afflicted than any other advanced nation?

And how come we're torturing people? How come we're putting people into high office -- attorney general, Department of Homeland Security -- who unleashed the whole torture scandal? The International Red Cross says torture is still going on today at Guantanamo. Torture has blackened our name around the world and made the president's words about bringing freedom and democracy sound hollow and hypocritical.

Item: Bush finally agreed to go along with the creation of a Department of Homeland Security, asserting nothing was more important than the safety of Americans. But then came lobbyists for the American Chemistry Council, and suddenly our safety wasn't so important. According to Christine Todd Whitman, then-head of the Environmental Protection Agency, she and Tom Ridge of Homeland Security crafted regulations requiring the 15,000 highest-risk chemical plants to take steps to reduce their vulnerability to terrorism. Seems like a sensible idea.

But nope, the administration wouldn't support it, and the lobby fought it. "I sometimes wonder whether those companies spend more money trying to defeat new regulations than they would by simply complying with them," writes Whitman in her book "It's My Party Too." There are no federal regulations today requiring chemical companies to prepare for terrorist attacks.

Here's an administration dedicated to destroying government as much as possible until, as Grover Norquist says, "we can drown it in the bathtub." But they have no hesitation about spending our money on "public relations." The Bushies have spent $250 million on "public relations" during their first term, more than twice as much as in Clinton's last term. But it was not public-interest spending, like trying to get people to eat healthier diets or not drink while driving. This was propaganda for the administration's political agenda.

Then there is the ludicrously loony matter of the budget deficit. Recall these people inherited a whopping budget surplus. For over a year now, the administration has said, "We've got a plan to cut the deficit in half over the next five years." The deficit in 2004 was $412 billion, the largest ever. The White House now says this year's will be $427 billion -- BUT that the plan to cut the deficit is "on track." Man, that's some track.

To this cascading disaster, Bush wants to add $2 trillion in transition costs over the next decade for his scheme to partially privatize Social Security. This is one I'm really having trouble figuring out. There is no crisis in the Social Security program. It is not in trouble. If nothing is done, come 2042 -- or 2052 if you believe the Congressional Budget Office -- SS will have to start paying less than its promised benefits, but will still be able to pay seniors more than it does today in constant dollars. You can easily fix even that minor problem by lifting the cap on FICA taxes now at $90,000.

Why should people who make more than $90,000 have their higher income exempted, when every nickel made by people below the poverty level is taxed?

As Paul Krugman of The New York Times points out, if you accept the Rosy Scenario the administration is using to paint privatization as an effective scheme, then Social Security is in no trouble at all and we don't need to do anything about it -- economic growth will take care of it all. Contrariwise, if you accept the doom-and-gloom scenario the administration uses to prove that SS is in trouble, then there's no way the privatization scheme will be anything other than a disaster.

Dogged if I know what these people have against SS, a program that works just fine and has kept elderly people from having to eat cat food for many years now. Because the right wing has somehow become a cult of anti-government nuthatches, I have no idea where we're headed. The purposes of government, according to the U.S. Constitution, is "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."


CROW EATEN HERE: Sorry, there were 260 terrorist attacks in Iraq on election day, not 175. And, oops, the British medical journal Lancet estimates 100,000 Iraqi civilian deaths, not 20,000.

To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at